Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Last Day

I raised the curtain in our bedroom this morning and saw the sky turning colors just in the right spot. I ran out into the kitchen where Paul was making breakfast for everybody (you can’t have him; he’s mine) and said, “I’ll be right back! I have to take a picture of the tree.” 

Everyone in my house is acclimated to mild lunacy and paid no attention as I threw a hoodie on over my wet hair and ran out to the car. 

I got to the end of the lane and turned the car around. I could see the neighbors eating breakfast by their window. They looked up but went back to their toast. (They are also used to me.) I got snow in my shoes when I jumped the ditch because I hadn’t bothered with socks. 

It was worth it. 


For a lot of folks, 2016 hasn’t been a great year. This is always true for some individuals, but it’s been a hard year in a much larger way. A lot of people are worried about a lot of things. 

All the people aren’t worried about all the same things, because it’s also been a very confusing year. I think it was around the time of scary clown sightings that I finally said, “I know this makes me sound like an old crotchety person, but I don’t think I understand the world anymore.” 

I know that calendar boundaries are just a way of keeping track of things. Tomorrow is just the next day and the day after that is just another next day. I know this, and yet I am grateful for this goodbye salute from 2016. 

Today, the sun rose behind the tree. Tomorrow, it’ll happen again. Our lives are often difficult and sometimes so breathlessly gorgeous. 

Just like my friend Susan’s nephew said, as he rubbed his hand across a big Lego surface: This feels good and horrible at the same time. 

Protecting the Dream

CAUTION: Contains frank talk about Santa. You’ve been warned.

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I’m ambivalent about Santa. I never believed in Santa as a child. Paul didn’t either, and when we talked about it we generally decided we’d go along if they picked it up from other people, but wouldn’t lie if asked a direct question. (I’m a terrible liar, so this was a good practical decision if nothing else.) So these past few years at our house, Santa filled the stockings, but that was it.

santa-claus

Earlier this year, the boys came to me together and braced me on The Santa Question.

“Um,” I said, a little wildly, “What do you think?”

“We think he’s not real,” they said. “Are we right?”

“Well, you are. Sort of. Santa, the guy who wears a red suit and lives at the North Pole is not a real guy. But really Santa is an idea. He’s the idea of unselfish love and giving. Every time you give a gift and don’t expect anything in return, you’re part of The Santa Idea.”

They seemed fine with that, if unimpressed.

“Will we still get presents?”

Reassured, they tore off in search of other myths to bust. Realizing I’d missed a crucial point, I called them back.

“This is VERY IMPORTANT,” I said. “Santa is an idea, and a lot of people, especially kids at school, still believe. If someone believes in Santa, YOU do not tell them he is not real. That is not your job. You let them believe.”

A short philosophical wrangle ensued regarding the nature of truth and the importance of kindness, but when they finally took off I was pretty sure they’d cooperate.

Soon after Thanksgiving, one of them reported that someone in his class still believed in Santa, and he hadn’t said anything different. “Excellent!” I said.

This last Friday, Emily came to babysit for the day. Emily goes to church with us and sings on the worship team. She’s in college and consequently happy to pick up extra cash when the opportunity presents itself. She finds the boys mostly amusing and hasn’t yet developed a desperate need to wash her hair when I call with a possible babysitting gig.

Yesterday, as we sat in the music office between Christmas Eve services, she told me she’d been asking the boys about the upcoming extravaganza.

“Are you excited?” she asked.

Oh, yes, they were, they said, hopping up and down like frogs high on pixie sticks.

“And what did you ask Santa for?”

“Santa’s not r…” Elias got out, before Levi cut him off.

“ELIAS,” he said, in the loudest stage whisper in the known universe, “SHHHHH. SHE DOESN’T KNOW.”

And so they pretended for her.

Bless their sweet hilarious little hearts. We’re still working on when it’s appropriate to punch your brother (HARDLY EVER YOU GUYS), but they do know how to be nice. Only to other people, I guess, but it’s a start.

Sixteen Minutes to Christmas

It’s sixteen minutes to Christmas. Everyone else has been in bed for awhile, the boys in their new (to us) Mario pajamas.

The stockings are ready (the ones for Mom and Dad are stuffed with fruit from the bowl on the counter to make them look full; I love a good banana for Christmas), the presents are under the tree, and I am sitting here with my feet up.

I was part of four Christmas Eve services at church today, and I was at the church for just over eight hours. There were a lot of opportunities for people to ask me if I was ready for Christmas.

You know, to my own surprise, I am.

We have candlelight services, and one of my favorite parts – I know this is a little weird – is the smell in the sanctuary when a service is over. A few hundred people have just blown out their candles and are heading out the door, chattering to their families about dinner. If you stand there in the sanctuary and take a deep breath, you can fill up your lungs with the wisps of smoke. It smells like Christmas to me.

I’ve been in the congregation when the light is passed down the rows from one person to the next, and I loved it.

But if you’re on stage, you get to watch from a little bit above as the light starts with just one candle in the front, and spreads out and fills up the room. Best seat in the house. 

Photo credit: Jordyn Benter

It’s four minutes to Christmas now. I’m ready.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Better 

I discovered this week that I have readers I didn’t know about. Mostly because people kept asking me if I was feeling better. Apparently they read my little December rant a few days ago. (This is probably useful as an early warning system to allow people to approach me with caution.)

Anyway, the answer is yes. I am feeling better.

Maybe not quite as gleeful as that picture would indicate, but coping.

So how did that happen, exactly?

I suspect that I’m not the only person who has ever descended into a funk and had to find a way out. I suspect that I’m not the only person doing it right now. So here are some of the things that I do. These are not new ideas. They’re all things that people told me to try along the way.

***THIS IS IMPORTANT***
These are just things you can try if you are in a funk. If you are clinically depressed, what you really need is help from a professional. Even though it’s scary and upsetting and you don’t want to believe that you need it.

I can tell you this because I have been down in that scary dark hole, and I did not find the way out on my own. I got help. If you think maybe you need help and you don’t know what to do, I would be happy to point you to some places you can start. No one will ever know that you asked. (Despite my general lifestyle of oversharing, I can keep my mouth shut when it counts.)
***

So here are the things I did this week. If you are having a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good week (or month or whatever), maybe one of them will help you, too.

  • I stopped pretending.

    I have this friend Jan. She loves Christmas. I think it’s her favorite thing, seriously. She wants Christmas to start in August.

    I am never going to be like Jan.

    There is a lot to enjoy about the Christmas season, I find, as long as I am not pretending it’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I find December difficult, but I can find things to appreciate and enjoy even in difficult seasons. The minute I stopped pretending I would ever reach Jan-like levels of joy, I felt better.

    It’s okay not to be okay sometimes. It’s okay to tell someone that you’re not okay. (You don’t have to publish it to the world like I do. You can just tell a friend.)

  • I took care of myself.

    There are things that I do on a regular basis that I know will make me feel better. When I get in a funk, I find it harder to do these things. (Kind of seems like a mean trick from the universe, no?) It helps if you have someone who will gently encourage you in this. Paul is pretty good at this. “How can I help you get to the gym today, dear? You’ll be much easier to live with feel much better if you do.”

    This looks a little different for everybody, and has changed for me over time. Right now, taking care of myself looks like getting to bed early, lifting weights three times a week, and not eating things that numb feelings on the way down and cause regret later. A treat is a good idea. An entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s in a single sitting just causes nausea (physical AND metaphorical).

  • I decided to forgive myself.

    For not being Mrs. Claus, for being kind of a mess, and for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s, even though I knew better. I’ve discovered that I can’t hate myself into being a better person. (SPOILER: You can’t either.) Today will be a lot better if I forgive myself the imperfections and idiocies of yesterday.

  • I accomplished something.

    I picked something very, very small that I needed to do. Then I went and did it. A lot of a blue funk for me is the feeling of drowning under all the stuff I need to get done. Moving one thing off the list, even a teeny tiny thing, makes me feel less hopeless. And it makes me feel like I can tackle the next thing.

  • I found something to look forward to. 

    In this case, I actually went ahead and created something to look forward to. I texted two girlfriends and said, “I need something to look forward to. Can we have dinner in early January?” (Note that sending this text required not pretending that I was okay.)

    This is not to say I am not looking forward to all the holiday things happening in December. I am. All those events, though, carry expectations about what I will bring or do or be. Some of those expectations are external, from other people, and some of them are internal, from me. Either way, they’re real, and they are a large part of what gives me the crazy eyes this time of year. There are just too many ways to disappoint people.

    I can look forward to this dinner unreservedly because  I don’t have to bring or do or be anything particular. I believe if I were to show up in pajama pants and three-day old hair and cry through dinner, I would be offered not censure, but empathy. (Also probably cheese dip.) This might not sound like a party to you, but to me it sounds like freedom.

 

That’s it.

It’s a lot of common sense, I think, but occasionally I get so busy freaking out that I cannot locate any kind of sense. It helps to have a list. Hope it helps you, too, if you need it.

 

 

Goodbyes

You guys, December is winning.

This is my Uncle Everett, back in 1944, when he was ten years old. He died in the wee hours this morning.

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A couple of people have asked me today if we were close, and I’m not sure how to answer that. The answer is likely no, at least in the way that they’re asking. We didn’t spend a lot of time together. I had seven uncles just in my mother’s family, and that doesn’t take into account the aunts and aunts-in-law and all the relations on my father’s side. There were a lot of them, and then they had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the numbers spun out of control.

But he was an immutable part of my childhood. When I realized one day that parents could die, I asked Mom what would happen to me if she and Dad were both gone, and her answer was that Uncle Everett and Aunt Marge would take care of me. I breathed in a sigh of relief. And there he was, for the rest of my years until I turned 18 and considered myself grown up. Somewhere in the background of my life, not flashy, but always there in case the very worst happened.

This is the trouble with big families. You love a lot of people. You say a lot of goodbyes.

I am for real a grownup now, although no one told me that being a grownup would feel quite so much like groping along in a dark hallway hoping you get hold of the right door handle. Or that no matter how old you are, when both your parents are gone, you feel just a little bit lost. Or that the goodbyes accumulate, each one recalling the ones that came before.

It is December, and that means I am a certified hot mess, so maybe I’m maudlin. I know this is life, and this is what happens, and it will be fine. I will be fine. But if you stop to ask me, I will also tell you that I am tired.

And I am tired of goodbyes.

Running Late

I realized this morning as I was stomping around the kitchen that I’m running a little late. I checked to be sure, and it’s true. It’s December 7, and I haven’t posted my annual I-hate-Christmas rant. In past years, these have appeared on either the first or third day of December. (In 2014, it wasn’t a dedicated post, so I logged the first mention of my rotten holiday attitude.)

I have been trying so hard this year, for real. It turns out – And why do I have to keep re-learning this? – that pretending something is not true does not make it easier to deal with. While there is a lot to be said for faking it till you’re making it as a path to a better attitude, pretending that I’m merry doesn’t magically disappear all the extra stuff that has to happen in December, and it doesn’t make me feel any more sane.

I was looking for a picture of the Grinch to use with this post, but I don’t think I am the Grinch. I don’t want to take Christmas away from other people. I want Cindy Lou Who to party down (as long as I don’t have to come because I am exhausted).

You know who I feel like? I feel like Horton. Christmas is the egg and I am doing my best to keep it warm. I look ridiculous and I’m as uncomfortable as an elephant up a tree, but I’m going to hatch this blasted egg if it kills me.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-9-26-38-am

I will. I WILL HATCH CHRISTMAS.

I will not pretend that it’s my favorite thing. I am tired and I have a headache and I think I’ve had a cold since Halloween and apropos of nothing I really miss my mom. She didn’t like Christmas either, so maybe I just want someone to tell me I came by it honestly.

Oddly, I feel a lot better just saying this out loud. December is hard, but I can do hard things. It will be fine. All of the things will happen, or they won’t, and January will come and the kids will go back to school and life will settle back into whatever passes for normal around here.

And if I wish that we could just skip December altogether, well, that’s my problem.

Onward and upward!

Das Neu Tannenbaum

Today’s Advent activity, announced this morning to shrieks of joy, was to put up the Christmas tree.

I won’t lie. I have dreaded this every year. It’s always a circus around here, but add in easily tangled lights and breakable ornaments and a kind of high-strung mother especially in December (I never admitted that and I’ll deny it to my last breath), and it’s a little stressful. The tree when it’s done is nice, but the process has not been.

Mothers of toddlers who are trying to have Really Good Christmases (if you’re a regular reader you know we gave up on Perfect Christmases a long time ago) and to let the little darlings help decorate the tree, this is my message to you: HANG ON, SISTER. It gets better. This year, when we were all done, I turned to my sister and said, “Wow. That wasn’t bad at all. Actually, it was kind of fun.”

Also, we are not attaching the tree to the wall this year and I think there’s like a 60% chance it won’t get knocked down. Major progress.

We got a new Christmas tree this year. We don’t do live trees because convincing Paul to go out and get a live tree and haul it home is not on the list of things I can currently handle. Also because a fake one you can get from Amazon Prime. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus.

Levi was a little confused, though. “Mom! There’s something wrong with our tree!”

I explained about fluffing, and they got busy.

There was a bad moment when two strings of lights turned out not to work at all, and we thought that Christmas might be RUINED RUINED I SAY. But Mama plans ahead and sometimes that even works, and this was one of those times. I had a huge string of lights stored that we’d never used because I figured this would happen one day.

Phew.

So they got after the ornaments. This year, they heeded my exhortations and did not hang all the ornaments on one branch. They were tall enough to reach almost the entire tree. It was awesome.

 

When we were all ready, they said Auntie could do the star because she’s never had a turn. They even held her up so she could reach.

All done.

Okay, FINE. I’ll admit it. It’s one of my favorite things, when the tree is lit and you can turn all the lights off and sit with just the tree on. Even my Grinchy heart can’t hold out against it.

We’ve told Elias about his first Christmas, and how he was fascinated by the lights. I’d just let him lie under the tree and he’d stare up at the lights and coo. It was darling. So he crawled under tonight and said, “Was it like this?”

Auntie and Levi got down there with him to hang out and talk.

L: This is a good day to do the tree because it’s so dark!
E: Yeah! I like when it’s all lit up when we go to bed.
A: That’s when Mama gets all lit up, too.
Me:  … Seriously?
E: What does that mean?
A and Me, simultaneously: NOTHING.

A: What was your favorite thing last year?
E: Bringing a present home to Mama from school.
L: My Christmas party at school. We played Pin the Nose on Olaf!
A: What do you think your mama’s favorite thing is?
E: Buying presents and making her kids happy.
A: … I think you nailed it, buddy.

E: Hey Mom. You know last year on Christmas Eve when you put out the presents? Levi got out of bed and felt his present.
A: Ohhhhh, my. Did he now?
E: Yeah. And … and … I went with him.